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Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book II, Ch. 11: Chester

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Of the passage of the River Dee, and of Chester

Having crossed the river Dee below Chester, (which the Welsh call Doverdwy), on the third day before Easter, or the day of absolution (holy Thursday), we reached Chester. As the river Wye towards the south separates Wales from England, so the Dee near Chester forms the northern boundary. The inhabitants of these parts assert, that the waters of this river change their fords every month, and, as it inclines more towards England or Wales, they can, with certainty, prognosticate which nation will be successful or unfortunate during the year. This river derives its origin from the lake Penmelesmere,171 and, although it abounds with salmon, yet none are found in the lake. It is also remarkable, that this river is never swollen by rains, but often rises by the violence of the winds.

Chester boasts of being the burial-place of Henry,172 a Roman emperor, who, after having imprisoned his carnal and spiritual father, pope Paschal, gave himself up to penitence; and, becoming a voluntary exile in this country, ended his days in solitary retirement. It is also asserted, that the remains of Harold are here deposited. He was the last of the Saxon kings in England, and as a punishment for his perjury, was defeated in the battle of Hastings, fought against the Normans. Having received many wounds, and lost his left eye by an arrow in that engagement, he is said to have escaped to these parts, where, in holy conversation, leading the life of an anchorite, and being a constant attendant at one of the churches of this city, he is believed to have terminated his days happily.173 The truth of these two circumstances was declared (and not before known) by the dying confession of each party. We saw here, what appeared novel to us, cheese made of deer's milk; for the countess and her mother keeping tame deer, presented to the archbishop three small cheeses made from their milk.

In this same country was produced, in our time, a cow partaking of the nature of a stag, resembling its mother in the fore parts and the stag in its hips, legs, and feet, and having the skin and colour of the stag; but, partaking more of the nature of the domestic than of the wild animal, it remained with the herd of cattle. A bitch also was pregnant by a monkey, and produced a litter of whelps resembling a monkey before, and the dog behind; which the rustic keeper of the military hall seeing with astonishment and abhorrence, immediately killed with the stick he carried in his hand; thereby incurring the severe resentment and anger of his lord, when the latter became acquainted with the circumstance.

In our time, also, a woman was born in Chester without hands, to whom nature had supplied a remedy for that defect by the flexibility and delicacy of the joints of her feet, with which she could sew, or perform any work with thread or scissors, as well as other women.


171 The lake of Penmelesmere, or Pymplwy meer, or the meer of the five parishes adjoining the lake, is, in modern days, better known by the name of Bala Pool. The assertion made by Giraldus, of salmon never being found in the lake of Bala, is not founded on truth.

172 Giraldus seems to have been mistaken respecting the burial- place of the emperor Henry V., for he died May 23, A.D. 1125, at Utrecht, and his body was conveyed to Spire for interment.

173 This legend, which represents king Harold as having escaped from the battle of Hastings, and as having lived years after as a hermit on the borders of Wales, is mentioned by other old writers, and has been adopted as true by some modern writers.

Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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